I’ve been thinking about this story a lot lately so I wanted to post a sample from it. This is about as far away from fan-fiction as you can get and still call it fanfic. Nowhere Man is the story of a guy who becomes homeless who meets a woman named Phoenix that turns out to be his angel.
He is the figure that we step over on our way down the street. He is the unmoving lump underneath the pages of a newspaper, asleep on a park bench. He is Nowhere Man, an invisible being that people choose not to see.
Poor and lonely, he refuses to think past the current day, the here and the now. He thinks he doesn’t deserve any better than what he’s got until he is visited by an angel named Phoenix.
This is one of the grittiest stories I’ve written and after writing sappy sweet romantic stories, it was a nice break to write someone brittle yet caring like Phoenix. This story can be read in it’s entirety at the fanfic archive HERE.
He had managed to score a bed at a shelter for a few nights, which saved him from potentially freezing to death, but since the temperature had risen to a more humane level, JC was outside once again.
He had to be hyper vigilant, even when he was sleeping. Having to be half awake and aware all night meant he didn’t get much sleep, so he awoke tired, had a bland breakfast and then was back out on the street. He wandered through his day, listless and not caring about much of anything.
It was during these times that JC couldn’t help but let the old days roll through his mind. He remembered a time when he lived a life with purpose. He would get up in the morning and go to work, maybe stop by McDonald’s on the way. He had a job and a set of assigned tasks to complete and a desk and a phone and a computer with internet at his fingertips. He had a boss and coworkers and it was assumed that he got paid every two weeks. There was a vending machine into which he happily spilled his quarters for chips and pretzels and soda. After work, there was always a happy hour or, during the really good days, he could catch dinner with a girlfriend. Go see a movie. Or go home. A warm home that wasn’t anything special but it had rooms. And a couch. And a TV.
He missed TV. He missed wings and beer. And football. Ah, he missed football.
JC wandered the streets without a destination in mind, missing his old life and his old problems. Those were good days. He just didn’t know they were good days when he was living them.
As the sun began its descent, the temperature dipped drastically. He began his usual quest for a place to watch the evening turn into night, and later to lay his head until night turned to dawn and dawn turned to morning.
He settled against a wall outside of the Golden Lantern Theater. It had a marquee, the kind with lights that chased each around the outside of the sign, except the Golden Lantern was run-down and decrepit. It only showed dollar movies and seemed to be popular among teenagers who never really watched the movie, but sat in the back of the theater drinking and shooting up, sharing needles and generally being loud. When a bulb blew out, no one fixed it. Now the sign looked like an open mouth with missing teeth.
He had been sitting against the wall for hours, watching foot traffic pass one way and car traffic pass another. The air was cool and crisp, but tolerable. He shoved his hands into the pocket of his jacket and once again, the unopened bottle of vodka tempted him. He pulled it out, held it in the palm of his hand and stared at it.
“Works better if you open it and pour it down your throat.”
He didn’t have to look up to know it was her. She must not have been one for invitations, because she sat down next to him, scooting back against the brick wall and folding her legs up under her.
“Hey, yourself. You still got that bottle?”
“I guess I don’t drink.” He handed the bottle to her. She took it and slipped it into the pocket of her coat.
“I stole it from the hotel I work at, anyway.”
JC laughed as his head turned quickly in her direction. It had been a long time since he’d actually laughed out loud. First she shows up out of the blue and then she makes him laugh. Angel, definitely.
“Stole it? You serious?”
“Yeah. I work at one of those high priced places downtown. The ones with the mini bar in the room. If you take a bottle, they charge you whether you drink it or not. So, if a guest leaves a bottle behind, I take it.” She shrugged.
“It’s not really stealing, then. More scavenging. I thought you meant you like…broke into a room and took it.”
“We’re supposed to turn them in, but whatever. I guess it’s not stealing, then. Whew,” she said, sarcastically brushing a hand across her brow. “I feel better. So I went back to the park to give you that coat but you were already gone. Security run you off?”
“Damn. But you made it without me, I guess. No cough?”
He shook his head, smiling. “No cough. Must have just been the cold.”
“I half expected you to show up at my door, especially for the coat. Anyone else would have.”
JC stared ahead, chewing on his bottom lip. “I guess I’m not anyone else,” he said.
“Guess not,” she said. “So what’s your name?”
She giggled. He liked the sound. It was like a babbling brook, all high pitched and breathy. “Like as in Jesus Christ?”
“Like as in Joshua,” he said, his voice more stern than he intended. It softened a moment later when he said, “That joke isn’t funny. I’ve heard it all my life.”
“Touchy.” She drew her knees up toward her chin, her arms wrapped around her legs. “Alright then, not-Jesus Christ. What’s your story?”
He looked at her, noting her dark, disheveled hair pulled back into a ponytail and brown eyes and small nose. She was plain, but not unattractive. He hadn’t made much time for girls, out here. He didn’t have any money to spend on them. None of them seemed willing to spend any money on him, either. He wasn’t sure what was different about this girl, but he thought he might make some time for her.
“Yeah. How’s a guy like you, who looks pretty damn normal, end up sitting up against the Golden Lantern looking all lost and cold and shit?”
“I guess all kinds of people end up out here.”
“That’s what I’m saying, basically. How did you?”
“Long story. Don’t feel like telling it. Especially to a stranger.” He unfolded his legs, stretching them out in front of him and crossed them at the ankles. He was proud of his clean, almost white socks as they peeked out from the tattered hem of his jeans. “You go first.”
“Me? What do you want to know?”
“Same thing you asked me. Your name. What’s your story?”
She sighed and dug into her pocket, pulling out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. She shoved a cigarette between her lips and flicked the lighter until a flame licked the other end. She put the lighter and the cigarette away and blew a plume of acrid smoke into the air above them.
“Sorry, did you want a smoke?”
He shook his head. “That stuff will kill you, you know.”
Smoke poured from her nose and mouth as she laughed. “You’re funny, not-Jesus Christ. You live anywhere, everywhere, nowhere, but you don’t smoke because cigarettes will kill you. You eat every meal at a shelter, you’ll sleep on a bench in the park when it’s almost zero degrees out, but you don’t drink or shoot up. Your socks are clean and so is your face.”
She grabbed one of his hands and peered at them before sucking in another puff of the cigarette. “And so are your hands, for the most part. You almost backed away from me when I said I stole that bottle of booze. You really think you belong out here?”
“You’re not the judge of who belongs out here. And how do you know all that? About me, I mean.”
She glared at him for a few seconds before her eyes dropped to the crumbling pavement. She looked as if she hadn’t meant to reveal that much detail. “How do you think?” she said, her attitude returning. “Been watching you.”
“Because you, not-Jesus Christ—“
“Fine. You, JC, intrigue me.”
“But… I mean… do you follow me around?” The thought of that was frightening. And embarrassing. He could only imagine the kinds of things he did when he thought no one was looking.
The girl flicked a column of ash from the end of her half smoked cigarette. “Used to,” she admitted. “And I have friends, like the girl you flirt with to get extra food at St Joseph’s. Her name is Hailey. I’ve got her keeping an eye on you. She tells me when you don’t show up. Then I look for you and make sure you’re out here somewhere. You never really go far.”
JC blushed, but only slightly and only for a few moments. “So I’m weird to you? Hundreds of people have nowhere to be, live on the wind and spend their days in a stupor, but I’m weird?”
“Yeah. Because you’re conscious. The hundreds of people you talk about, the ones that spend their days in a stupor? They do that on purpose. They don’t want to be conscious of this life they live. They want to live in the most painless way possible.”
She sucked her cigarette down to the filter and ground it out on the pavement next to her. “So, yeah. You’re kind of weird. Like me.”
“Oh, now I see.” JC nodded his head, smiling. “It’s the old we’re a lot alike ruse.”
“Not a ruse. I was weird for a long time. People don’t get why a clean and sober person would choose to live out here. They think people just end up out here.”
“But you said… I mean, you have a place, right? You’re not out here.”
She lifted her head, her chin proud and prominent. “Not anymore. But I’m only one step away from being back out here. That’s kind of why I noticed you. You’re weird like me.” She tipped her head and studied his profile for a few moments. “That’s why I think whatever you’ve got planned or whatever you’re working towards, you’re probably going to make it. You’re not going to end up like the hundreds of people with nowhere to be who live their lives in a stupor.”
His chin lowered to his chest, out of habit. Humility was all he had known for over a year. It took a lot of humility to make the choices he made, to accept the help when it came, and to realize a compliment when he heard one. He was hearing one. He didn’t know how to take it.
“Tell you what. I’m getting cold and this pavement is hard. My ass hurts.” She heaved herself up from the ground and stood in front of him. “Dumb question, but. Uh, do you want to come by?”
JC looked up at her. For the first time, she seemed nervous and a little bit shy.
“I don’t have this fantastic view…” She turned, sweeping her arm in an arc. When she looked back at him, she was smiling. “But it’s warm and it’s not outside. I feel bad for not getting that coat to you the other night. And I feel like being nice to a weirdo.”
She wanted him to say yes. He really, really wanted to say yes. He couldn’t make his mouth open and say the word, though. So he just stared.
She shrugged. “Suit yourself. 621 State Street. Down this block, take a left and three blocks down. Standard Hotel. Welcome anytime.”
He nodded, inwardly kicking himself.
She lingered for a moment, but when he didn’t change his mind, she backed away and started walking. He watched her until she turned the corner. And then she was gone.
He sat up against the wall for hours, contemplating their short conversation. It was pleasant, he guessed. Nice to talk to someone who seemed to understand. And someone who’d made her way off of the streets. And someone who didn’t hurl obscenities and other nonsense at him when he walked by.
Car traffic slowed as the night wore on. Foot traffic crawled to standstill after the theater closed at 10pm.
And still, he sat up against the wall. Until he stood, and started walking. Down the block. To the left. Three blocks down.
The Standard Hotel was nothing more than a roach motel renovated -cheaply at that- into studio apartments. The rooms were tiny, the rent was too expensive for the area, but it beat sleeping on State Street itself. That this girl was able to get a room said a lot about her. At the very least, that she was working.
He walked around the perimeter of the long, strip-mall like row of rooms, counting the numbers. 618… 619… 620… at 621 he stopped, took a deep breath, and rapped his knuckles on the door twice.
It opened almost immediately. The warmth of the room and the scent of something—soup maybe, rushed from the room in a blast of domestic comfort and hit him head on. In sweat pants, a t-shirt and bare feet, the girl stood in the doorway.
“You never told me your name.”